SALT LAKE CITY — Since sunsetting the decades-old title of Saturday’s Voyeur, a summertime send-up of all things Utah-Conservative, the annual Salt Lake Acting Company show still carries much the same banner. In a state where one political party and religion dominates the local news and politics SLAC’s summer cabaret serves as a theatrical catharsis for those who’s beliefs and desires are ignored by those in power. This principal of “punching up” with comedy by the disempowered to those who have power is vital to appreciating the Voyeur tradition. This year local theatre artist Olivia Custodio is reprising her role as playwright and has admirably chosen to lend her voice to supporting those who’s voices are too often drowned out in the cacophony of Conversative political rhetoric.
SLAC never lacks talent on stage and this year’s cast is no exception. The star of the night is Madison Archibald as Subaru Sorensen, host of the Utah Public Broadcasting (UPB) fundraising telethon- the narrative framework of the evening. Her vocals and bright-eyed cheer set the tone for a show that is painfully riddled with information both frustrating and terrifying about Utah’s politics and climate-crisis realities. Her telethon co-host, actor James Wong, also radiates energy in telethon host Tesla Hale, even if his character’s comedic material about an ex-husband grew a bit tiresome. Wong really shines later in the show in drag as Snatchma Wig. Trevor Bird as Brigh Bird and drag Queen Rita Book is another standout performance.
Sean J. Carter and David Knoell delight in roles lovingly parodying everyone from local book merchant Ken Saunders to LeVar Burton and Mr. Rogers. These parodies are what I found best to love about Custodio’s script. While she is unafraid to poke fun at real life cultural icons it is done with respect for their work. Instead of mockery, she creates comedy by placing these figures in absurdly t00-real situations such as when Brigh Bird is confronted with the facts about the expected decimation of migratory bird populations from the drying of the Great Salt Lake, or when “Mr. Roberts” takes a tour of his neighborhood and sees the challenges created by the housing crisis. By addressing these local challenges through the nostalgic lens of beloved television characters Custodio has created a love letter to the publicly funded media that raised us all. As for current local politicians, well, their likenesses are not quiet as loving. Especially memorable is green grump Mike Lee the Trash Person performed by Trevor B. Dean.
Director and choreographer Cynthia Fleming has done well highlighting the cast’s collective talents and voices. The dancing is enthusiastic and joyful if not exactly impressive in its complexity. The onstage music of Michael G. Leavitt and Spencer Kellogg is excellent and brings energy throughout the show. The production does manage to thread the needle of being overly “insider” for theatre fan and being friendly to new audiences. With it’s educational children’s show setting, the jokes also stayed more in the political lane and away from the sexual or even Mormon-centric tone that has been seen in past years. Utah’s prominent religion still gets prominent stage time, but it’s not the focus of the show.
Erik Reichert‘s set is impressive and helpful throughout the show with use of projections and a number of cool, moving pieces. The few minor technical difficulties of the evening are sure to be worked out quickly for this production that runs for more than a month. Along with the general raucous attitude of the show, for interested audience members there is the option to reserve tickets for a small table at the front or back of the theatre where a personal picnic and pre-show pick-me-up can be brought into the theatre and enjoyed. Additionally, all audience members are invited to partake in the intermission tradition of a non-alcoholic green Jell-O shot from a sacrament tray. As most gentiles know, the indulgence of a small bite and the right drink makes a delightful evening even more delightful.
In a final number Living in Utah, the cast encourages the audience to get involved in making positive change to our neighborhood. I applaud Custodio’s efforts to inform and raise concerns about local issues. While it may be that A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is preaching to the choir, it is always nice to have a place to sing together.